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June 20, 2024

The four biggest festivals according to the old way of marking the year’s cycle are the two solstices and the two equinoxes. The longest day, the shortest day, and the two days when light and dark are in balance. These are the ancient ways of marking in time; “here we are – we have got here again.” After that, people of the past could break down the gaps between these greater markers in less grand ways, by counting the days for example, and thus create a calendar.

The great stone circles and the ancient monuments on these islands, and elsewhere in the world, were to varying degrees built to help us know when these crucial moments were coming and to celebrate them by orchestrating a grand luminous spectacle when the sun would touch a certain part of the structure. They would also of course provide spaces in which people could gather and enjoy the moment communally. Stonehenge in England seems to have had many functions over the centuries but among those are marking the two solstices, while Newgrange in Ireland, for example, seems more specifically to mark the winter one.

People still gather in these places on these festivals, and they can remind us of the heritage of the people who lived here before us and their technological skills. On this summer solstice we can remember the land and the sky where they celebrated, even if in our cities we can’t see that backdrop so clearly. There is more light today than on any other day of the year, and we can bathe ourselves in it as much as we can and perhaps even give thanks to the sun for creating and sustaining life here. People in other times and cultures have seen the sun as a conscious being or a god and it never does harm to show gratitude.

The summer solstice is a time for seeing the bigger picture. The world isn’t all about our social networks and our possessions. For all the interventions of big corporations and aggressive regimes, the sun is easily the most important thing in this whole solar system and life can’t exist without it. Let’s celebrate that.


This blog was written by Adam Gordon, Cygnus Magazine Editor, Watkins Commissioning Editor and Watkins Media Office Manager.

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